Mary Alyce Ware: May 21, 1930 – January 7, 2014
By: Lola Carlisle, North Virginia Avenue
Special thanks to Matthew Baughman (also of North Virginia Avenue) for providing information from his 2002 interview with Mary Alyce Ware.
There was nowhere we would rather live than Virginia-Highland.
My first introduction to the area was in 1984 when a friend picked out bridesmaids dresses from Mooncake. I drove up to Atlanta from South Georgia and had my first taste of what was then a neighborhood still in transition – but more on this side of transition than the other. My friend Gretchen told me all about how cool intown Atlanta was, and she was right. Boy, we had a ton of fun, from restaurants in VaHi (including The Dessert Place) to wild-as-hell nightclubs like Club 688 in downtown Atlanta.
Cut to nearly ten years later: my husband and I return from NYC. We considered living in the suburbs for about 30 seconds and then set our sights on Virginia-Highland. On every excursion with our realtor (the intriguing German lady with the cool old black Mercedes) we found ourselves being shown around less expensive neighborhoods near Virginia-Highland before we insisted on looping back to the nighborhood itself. Buying here panned out – and I swear we got the very, very last great deal in this community. I know some other people think they did; maybe we’re all correct.
The day we moved into the neighborhood in March 1993, Mary Alyce and Eddie Ware came over and introduced themselves. They wanted to know everything about us and tell us everything about this little part of Virginia-Highland. They were brother and sister and lived next to one another – Eddie in the family home at 1029 N. Virginia Ave. and Mary Alyce next-door. At the time, we were very busy working hard and trying to make ends meet so we were not as receptive to the long conversations that Eddie and Mary Alyce enjoyed. If you needed to run out to your car, you did so armed with an explanation about why you couldn’t linger. But all that changed over the next couple of years as we got to know Eddie and Mary Alyce better.
Eddie fell in love with our first Weimaranar, Hekate. We learned later that Hekate was fed McDonald’s burgers over the fence three times a week, compliments of Eddie, who spent time with her every day. I have to say that because we were so busy we kept a little distance between us and the old guard on the street – but that was before our daughter Carli was born. No one could keep Mary Alyce Ware away from a cute baby! From Carli’s birth in December 1995 until January 2014, we were lucky enough to have Mary Alyce Ware (Aunt Dee Dee) in our lives.
Mary Alyce was born in 1930, about the time Virginia-Highland was becoming a bustling subdivision of Atlanta. A year before Mary Alyce was born, her parents moved to Atlanta from New Orleans for her father’s job with National Linen Service. Like many folks in those days, they rented apartments and homes around the neighborhood until 1942, when they bought the home at 1029 N. Virginia Avenue. Mary Alyce was the middle of five children – two older brothers and a younger brother and sister. 1029 N. Virginia, a three-bedroom/one-bath house, was a bustling and happy place. The kids went to Morningside, Inman, Sacred Heart, and Boys High. They walked and rode the bus to school and pretty much everywhere they went. Mary Alyce remembered growing up with war rationing, scarlet fever and polio outbreaks. Mary Alyce contracted polio and ended up missing enough school that she graduated one year late. She lived with the repercussions of having had polio all of her life, primarily severe back issues that prompted her early retirement in 1979.
Mary Alyce was a strong and independent woman. She applied to Loyola University and was shocked to hear they didn’t allow women to attend. She then applied to H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College, the women’s college of Tulane University. She was accepted and graduated in 1953 with a psychology major and philosophy minor. After graduation she lived in New Orleans with her grandmother for a few months until her father encouraged (or more accurately, insisted) that she return and search for a job.
Most women of her generation took secretarial jobs, but Mary Alyce could not due to her lack of typing skills, which were limited by her bout with polio. She applied to and got an entry-level job with Life of Georgia, and her working career began. Mary Alyce’s independent nature was in evidence in her promotion to traveling auditor, the first woman in the company to have that title. The role was one she’d been in for some time before being officially promoted (and given a raise), an act that occurred only after she formally asked for both in a special meeting with her boss. I also recall Mary Alyce’s indignation that when she wanted to buy the home next to her parents, she was not allowed to sign the note alone even though she had the credit history and finances to do so; a man had to co-sign. Her father did so, but the fact that it was necessary infuriated her, especially in this era of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment.
My years with her taught me a good bit about what the neighborhood had been like over the decades. When I asked her about its reported ‘decline’ in the 60’s, she replied that she had never noticed it; North Virginia had stayed stable. Come to think of it, she was right. When we moved in in 1993, the Pittmans (who were in their 70’s) lived across the street, Eddie was in his 60’s and still owned and lived in the house he grew up in, Mary Alyce was in her 60’s and lived next door to the house she grew up in, Ronnie Boorstein was in his 60s and lived in the house he grew up in. The Abrahams still lived in the house behind us where they raised a family, we bought our house from Sue Robinette (when she was 100; she and her husband were the original owners), Mr. Allen and his friend lived across the street and had lived there for a very long time, and Dennis and Polly lived a few doors down and had lived there since the late 70’s. I could tell a similar story about Los Angeles Avenue as well.
Mary Alyce was a great friend and family member to so many, and she became an adopted aunt, mother and grandmother to us. We really got comfortable with each other during my maternity leave; she and I spent every day watching Carli grow. From then on we were all family – even our nieces, nephews and au pairs took Mary Alyce on as their Aunt Dee Dee. I could ask Aunt Dee Dee advice about work, friends, health, child rearing, pets and family and come away with useful information. Carli would proudly take her friends over to meet Aunt DeeDee, with whom they would spend hours. She was the best neighbor – and adopted family – anyone could ask for. When she was younger, she spent nearly every weekend of the summer with her nieces and nephews at their cabin on Lake Jackson, and several of her nieces and nephews lived with her for extended periods of time.
I will greatly miss my trips across the street, glass of wine in hand, where over the years I made a fast friend.
All photos courtesy of Mary Alyce Ware.